Singles captures an eclectic band doubling down on one of its ideas, one which had been a high point of its last two albums, On the Water and particularly the strong In Evening Air (both on Thrill Jockey).
But it’s worth remembering this is a band with varied inclinations, which peek through in a few spots on this album. Herring unleashes some deep, dark death metal growls on Fall From Grace. And he also raps, apparently. Maybe his true pleasures are still waiting to be unearthed.
— JON CARAMANICA, NY Times News Service
The Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso, now 71, has extrapolated from bossa nova, his truest musical precedent, with the force of a Kabbalist. He’s written open, clear love songs; he’s made some abstruse sound art; he’s made elder-statesman records, with strings, enshrining his own imagist poetry or his historical theories about Brazil.
But for his last three records, he’s reduced his sound to himself and a tight electric backing trio: Pedro Sa on guitar, Ricardo Dias Gomes on bass and keyboards, and Marcelo Callado on drums. The band’s sound, switching up between rock beats and reductions of Afro-Brazilian funk, challenges Veloso, pushing him to escape old sentimentalities and perhaps invent new ones.
The latest, Abracaco (A Big Hug) is being described by its record company as the end of a trilogy. It’s not an overwhelming experience, by design; it’s modest in its weirdness. But it’s the best of the three.
It’s only now having its proper release in the US, with a translated lyric sheet, so that you can read words like “Indigestible woman/Heaven is all you deserve.” And also so that you can track down his many references: among them, Carlos Marighella, the Brazilian Marxist (and the hero of Um Comunista, a somber, 8 1/2-minute song about political utopianism at the center of this record); Bob Dylan; the Japanese-Brazilian mixed-martial artist Lyoto Machida; and Joao Gilberto, the hero of a praise-song with the title A Bossa Nova e Foda, which translates to a vulgar thumbs-up to Veloso’s favorite music.
The two records before Abracaco — Ce and Zii e Zie — relied more heavily on needling, repetitious musical ideas, and on provocative or ill-tempered lyrics; though Veloso’s singing and Sa’s careful bits of psychedelic guitar playing brought warmth into it, you could sense that this was almost a sentiment-deprivation exercise. By now, the whole enterprise has evened out, found its median state. The melodic and vocal tenderness in ballads that distinguishes some of Veloso’s best work from the past is here — in Vinco and Quando o Galo Cantou, which are also this record’s most forthright sex songs — as well as his moodiness, word games, celebratory chants and comic lust. Meanwhile, the backing band hasn’t lost its dry, concise identity. It’s all here.
— BEN RATLIFF, NY Times News Service